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What made this band’s People’s Choice Festival showing so unique

Hannah Crews, 12, sings with “Universal Distortion” from State College Rock Camp at the People’s Choice Festival on Friday, July 13, 2018.
Hannah Crews, 12, sings with “Universal Distortion” from State College Rock Camp at the People’s Choice Festival on Friday, July 13, 2018. adrey@centredaily.com

At just 12 years old, Hannah Crews took to the stage at People’s Choice Festival with a vibrant energy, belting out the lyrics to Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know.”

Crews is part of a six-member band called “Universal Distortion” — a name inspired by a very last-minute creative decision.

“So we played yesterday and before we were going we were like, ‘What are we going to name ourselves?’” said Evan Wayne, the group’s drums, vocals and keyboard player. “We found the word distortion and then we tried to put multiple words next to it.”

Fourteen-year-old Max Hill said he plays the bass guitar and sings. Hill can be seen performing with a slick black electric guitar with a unique jagged shape known as the B.C. Rich Warlock. Colin Hillard plays drums for the band, Colin Wayne on the guitar and Zeb Crews on the drums. The band members ages range from 12 to 17 years old.

Although this was their first time playing at People’s Choice Festival, the young members of “Universal Distortion” have had a history of performing.

“I got nervous at first but then I realized that I’ve done this before,” Crews said. “I was like, it’s fine, I got it.”

A crowd of around 60 people sat attentively, watching the group as they performed pop-rock songs like The White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.” Some even got up to dance on the dance floor in front of the stage.

Despite being a young group of performers, the band generally gets support from older artists.

“Generally older groups see us and are like, ‘Whoa, thats crazy,’” Crews said. “One guy came up to us and thought we were a backing track, so that’s a nice compliment to get.”

On Saturday, the band will rock out at the State Theatre around 2 p.m. in part of the various events at Arts Fest.

“Last year when we did it, it was kind of surprising, it was crazy,” Crews said in reference to their past performance at the State Theatre. When they first saw the size of the crowd, Crews said all of their mouths were open, as they were shocked with the amount of people that came to see them.

The band was created as a result of the State College Rock Camp.

For the teens, the camp is a place to meet friends and become a “better musician.”

In 2010, Matt Price co-founded the State College Rock Camp to teach music to all ages; from kids as young as seven to adults.

Price said bringing his students to perform at festivals such as People’s Choice and Arts Fest gives them an opportunity for a lot of people all ages to see their skills.

“This [camp] is trying to teach kids how to perform together as a group and provide them with an opportunity to go actually test these skills out and play,” said Jeff Gibble, a co-founder and instructor at the camp. “’Cause how do you get a gig when you’re a kid?”

Both Price and Gibble can relate to their young student’s experiences, as they started getting into music when they were eight and nine years old, respectively.

“I like to think we’re just helping to make the music scene stronger by bringing all these kids together and without having them learn these skills the hard way, through trial and error like we did,” Price said.

Price and Gibble still play in bands today. Price plays drums for local band Doppler Poppins that plays every Thursday at Zenos. Gibble plays guitar in Urban Fusion, a band dubbed as the “Funk Brothers of State College” that plays a concoction of jazz, funk, soul, blues and Latin.

After eight years of teaching people of all ages the art of rock, “seeing the smiles on their faces” is what inspires Gibble to continue educating.

“It’s cool because we have a lot of the same students that have been doing this for years,” Price said. “So you kind of created this cool little community.”

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